tv The American Spirit CSPAN June 18, 2017 1:15pm-2:53pm EDT
[inaudible conversations] >> i was about to say how special this night is but you all beat me to it which is great. welcome, my name is steve, executive director of john f kennedy library foundation and on behalf of all the colleagues in the library, we are thrilled you can be here. all of our forums are great but tonight is really a treat because the speakers who are here, it's also the beginning of the john f kennedy centennial weekend and we planned this months ago and we literally thought who would be the best pair above speaker and moderator we could get for this historic time and this is what we've gotten so we are thrill that had they are both here. [applause] >> before i introduce them, a few brief announcements. first i want to thank
underwriters and responsors, the lead sponsor, bank of america, bill and andrea low that with here tonight and media responsor for centennial bbc t we are kicking off cep -- centennial and there's information and over the next few days opportunity of seeing new exhibit with 100 items including 40 that have never been seen, on saturday in this room we will be doing a peace corps day and on sunday we have astronaut as part of tribute to nasa and monday we are having bands and music and the navy to honor president kennedy's service in the navy and at 3:00 p.m., a hundred years to the minute that president kennedy was born, two
f-18's flying overhead to honor president kennedy and then -- and then we will be eating a cake, we need help doing this. the cake that will serve a thousand people designed by the same company that did the cake for their engagement many years ago. so i hope you will join us for some of those activities. but tonight, tonight we have a literally standing in this auditorium and we have overflow in our other auditorium, we are also thrill that had we are streaming this and there are watching parties in places including the john f kennedy and c-span is here and we appreciate those that are here and those participating online. we have many distinguished guests. ii am not going to list them. there are many members of our board here and appreciate their leadership throughout the year
in what they do and this is we invited colleagues all over the country. we have representatives tonight either from presidential library or their accompanying foundation from the franklin roosevelt, harry truman, jimmy carter, george h.w. bush and bill clinton library, again, the library or the foundation. we also have former united states senator and his wife paul kirk here tonight and former embassadors alan solomon, nicklaus burns and several members of the new england course. join me in welcoming them for all their troubles. [applause] >> so after the first hour of dialogue, there will be a chance for question and there are microphones on either aisle as you get up and ask those.
if you don't want to get up or in the other room or if you're streaming, you can also just tweet us at jfklibrary. we will do the best to answer as many as we can. after the event, agreed to sign books. you have them, great, if not the bookstore has them. if you're interested in having a book signed, go out at the end, my left, your right. if you already have that are not interesting in line go out my right, your left just to help the traffic flow to go to go smoothly for that. if you haven't read this yet, this is a treasure. this just -- the american spirit who we are and what we stand for, there are so many features here. if i had an hour i would just ask the questions for an hour but i do want to introduce before i get to mr. mccollough
charlie gibson. [applause] >> based on the applause i think i speak for most people here who feel we know him even though we may have just met him and that for much of what i know i learned from listening to him on the news for 31 years that both anchors abc world news and cohosting good morning america. he interviewed everybody including nine u.s. presidents. so it's just a remarkable history and honor that had he and his lovely wife are here tonight and then david mccullough. he hasn't been recognized very much in his life. [laughter] >> i mean, you know, everyone pretty much has two for -- pulitzer prizes and medal of freedom, nation's highest
civilian honor. everyone i know has been recognized by 54 honorary degrees, right, actually no one else i know. join me in welcoming this amazing panel. thank you very much. [applause] >> so we are going to do just a colloquy for about an hour and steve mentioned you can come and ask questions and if people are going to tweet questions from outside the room, those are pretty concise questions, i must say. but the most famous twitter in the world probably isn't watching. [laughter] >> i doubt we will get one of those and i shutter to think what it might be. [laughter] >> but we do look forward to this and it is a treat for me as
somebody who was a very undistinguished history major in college to have a chance to talk to david which is something as a legend as steven mentioned and so i'm so please that had there are representatives here from so many presidential libraries and we do gather in the kennedy library which means makes me wonder and i ask you, how many books do you think they'll be in the trump presidential library? [laughter] [applause] >> well, he is -- in an interview with the washington post said that he never read a book about a president either a biography or a book about the presidency and that he might some day, he said.
he doesn't read books because his mind reaches beyond that. [laughter] >> and i began to think about the great presidents down the years who have been advent readers of history. many of them wrote history including john kennedy and even those who didn't have the benefit of a college education like harry truman read history all of their lives and realized that it's essential to the role of a leader whether it's the presidency or leadership of any kind. a cause and effect. history matters. if i have one message that i would like to get across in my work and in gatherings like this is history matters, a lot. [applause]
>> and we are slipping in our responsibility of teaching history to our children and grandchildren and it's been going on a good long time. a number of us are in a sense become evangelical preachers of the importance of history and i've lectured colleges and universities a great deal and i'm astonished at how much these wonderful young people don't know about our country in a story. i had one young lady come up to me after i gave a talk in midwest and she said that she we wanted to thank me for coming to the campus because it shows she heard my talk that day, she had no idea that all of the original 13 colonies were on the east coast. [laughter]
>> well, they may not -- >> another one asking in the question and answer period which maybe my favorite, this was a university in california, aside from harry truman and john adams how many other presidents have you interviewed. [laughter] >> well, there may not be many books in the trump presidential library but one hell of -- >> yeah. >> actually leads me to a second question. as a historian, what specific steps could andrew jackson have taken to prevent the civil war? [laughter] >> we could go all night on this. [laughter] >> if we are not going to stick on questions on that, i don't have anymore.
>> you could be interviewing president douglas tonight. [laughter] >> oh, my, oh, my. can you believe it? [laughter] >> really, it's -- well, i'm a -- i want to restore our recognition of who we are and why we are the way we are and what we stand for and i think more and more that as important as grade school, high school, college, university, advanced degrees all of that is an essential that maybe is as important as anybody is how we were brought up at home, how were we raised to behave. [applause] >> treating people can kindness,
tolerance, empathy and hard work. i grew up in pittsburgh, pennsylvania where people probable you worked hard but if you were a hard-good worker that counted high in how you were appreciated by other people. i remember my father used to say, oh, charlie, he drinks too much but he's a good worker or fred, he's a terrible exaggerator and tells stories that i don't quite believe but he's a good worker and if you were a good worker, that forgave all other failings in effect and that's what we -- how we got to where we are by working very, very hard. i was doing my wright brothers book, two young men who never had the chance to go to college, never even finished high school and they were brought up to have purpose in life, they were
brought up with values at home to learn to use the english language on your feet and on paper so that you read their letters that have survived and the library of congress and they're humbling in the quality of their have vocabulary and never to boost about yourself, never to get too big for your bridges. one of the things that impressed me at the time and impresses me the most given the situation now is that john kennedy almost never talked about himself. imagine. >> didn't use the first-person singular? >> no, no, almost never used first-person singular about anything.
a man who could have gone on and onto say the least with justification and pride of what he had accomplished. >> you mention that actually in the book. you say, i'm searching now for the quote talking about jfk, the first-person singular never entered in contrast to so many others since? you want to name names? >> there's a good line-up. [laughter] >> it's become sort of what you become in public life. and in many cases thaws justified. >> let me turn to the book, for 50 years -- since the analysis of 50 you have been giving a lot of speeches but you must have voluminous records and you chose 15 for that. i'm curious why you wanted to do
a book of speeches now and why you chose these 15. >> i thought maybe i should try that as a way of tuning up your head not necessarily your body and you start thinking in a way that you don't -- if you're not walking and so last summer when the comments being made for the republican candidate by the presidency were to me not only appalling but unimaginably out of place, i thought, what could i do to provide some kind of counter point of view to this and i started thinking about some of the speeches that i gave
at national occasions such as the 200th anniversary of the congress, the anniversary of the white house, kennedy's memorial service at thras -- dallas which i was asked to be the speaker and commencement speeches and speeches that i had given at particular occasions of importance in the history of other organizations and/or universities and found that they were great many where i was voicing what really matters to me and why i think history is fascinating and how essential i think it is as a means to enlarging the experience of being alive. why should we live lives with little time that biological
clocks provide while we can have access to the whole realm of the human story going back hundreds of thousands of years and so i said to take a look at which of these speeches might be appropriate and had the help of my daughter who arranged all of these talks that i gave and who kept the records of what i said. >> well, when i read the first time, when i finished it and put it down, i thought, oh, he's writing in the times or he's picking up the speeches because they might be to current times and while -- and i heard you say before, historians basically don't really have a role in talking about current politics but he's talking about current politics with these speeches. >> but i was talking before current politics came on the scene. none of these speeches were written -- >> i went back and read them a
second time thinking what's the sentence, what's the paragraph, what's the point he's trying to make here that might be taken to heart by people who are in politics right now. so i went back and read it a second time and each time i was looking in the speech, what's the one point he's trying to make here that might be taken to heart by somebody who, i don't know, might be elected president, who knows. >> yeah. >> so let me pick out a few of them. >> wonderful. >> i won't do each one but i think 12 out of 15i found pertinent. example one, first speech, in the book from 1989 you put margaret smith of maine who had the guts to rebuke joe mccarthy. she said, i don't want to see the republican party and she was a republican from maine ride to political victory on the four horseman of fear, ignorance and smear. smear is the interesting word here.
why did you think perhaps that had applications of current time? [laughter] >> sean, you'd be perfect if you only had a sense of humor. [laughter] >> could you imagine somebody reading that in the current political climate and what they might think? >> wouldn't it be wonderful? a republican that stood up like she did and rare in women at the senate at that point in history and many don't know who margaret smith was, bravest, admirable political figures we've ever had. >> and not any republicans are standing up now? >> not enough. >> 1998 speech quoting benjamin rush, not perhaps as well known as some other patriots of that time, one of the original signers of the declaration, speaking of good nature that
mattered most in human relations, he said and you quote him in the book, he said, this is his quote,i include candor and speak and listen with attention to everybody and you added in speech words to the wise then but perhaps in our own day or the never. >> indeed, benjamin rush is one of my favorite characters from our past and absolutely remarkable man, 1,800th century of polymath somebody interested in everything and he was an accomplished physician and one of the first people to encourage the fair and humane treatment of people with mental illness and not to just stuck them away in a cell as if they were animals. he was extremely courageous in his ability to go into places
where playing, it was ramped. he risked his life over and over and he was one of the signers of the declaration of inence and -- independence. when he signed the declaration of independence he was all by 30 year's old. we forget how young those people were. jefferson when he wrote the declaration of independence was 33. imagine. washington when he took command of the continental army was 44 year's old. we see them later on with white hair and wigs and elderly statures and so forth, they weren't that way then. they were very, very young. and i think that that's the encouraging fact of -- of that part of our story.
i don't think we can ever know enough about the american revolution and by the way, the new museum of the american revolution has just opened in philadelphia, it's a must for all of us. it is marvelous and particularly as a place to take your children, your grandchildren to get them hooked up on history and it's brilliantly organized, spectacular building by robert -- robert stern, excuse me. right in the center of where all the historic neighborhood is. it's only a few steps down the street from independence hall, but we lived in the boston area sort of take the responsibility of the miracle of that era as part of our environment, part of
our world and that's good, that's great, but i love kennedy's profiles of courage, i read that when i was still young and not really aware yet of what i wanted to do with my life. i love his regard for john quincy adams. >> what i like in that quote and i'm not here to comment on anything, what i like from that quote is the word civility which is a lost art in the public discourse of america today and the sense that existed among people who share a common goal and a common and know that there needs to be a common end, it's gone, it's gone, and you write that we we have in many instances had deep division in
the country but we've come out of it. >> yes. >> what's going to bring us out of this one? the two sides seem opposed. when politics trumps policy, when the sense of a national -- national goals is gone and party goals matter more than national goals, what brings -- >> leadership, leadership of the best kind. leadership to have the courage to stand up for their convictions, who have the backbone to do what's right irrespective of what it means to their political future or their chance of being reelected and it has to come mainly from the people. segments of government judicial and executive but there's a
fourth factor and when we stand up and say, no more of this, we don't take this anymore, when we stand up and say, there's a person right there who is saying the right thing and doing the right thing and we are going the get behind her or him and make sure that that attitude becomes potent and maybe even decisive, margaret j. smith. somebody in the government right now -- it will happen out of necessity to -- to survive. we are going to expect that. >> david, we are, i believe, and you're actually right that we are a centrist nation. we are basically a country, 30, 40, 50% of the people are in the middle and want government to get things done and we ain't doing it.
>> that doesn't mean we won't. we have come through very hard times, baffling times, very pessimistic times and -- and inappropriate behavior times to the part of our leadership but we've come through them all and very often when we do come through them, these difficult times, clouded sky times, when we do come through we are better off, better for having done it. people talk about that was a simpler time back then, no it wasn't. there never was a simpler time or things have never been so bad for voting, yes, they have. if you don't understand that, you don't understand the reality of our story.
i like to point out that the influenza epidemic which my parents and your parents probably went through, 1918-19, 500,000 americans died of that disease, a disease they didn't know where it came from, didn't know it it would ever go away, if at all or how to cure it. if that were to happen today given the size of our population, proportionate to our population, a million 500,000 people would die in less than a year. now, imagine if that were on the nightly news every night and we are more terrified, who would be next in our family to die and just as the depression and the civil war, horrible, horrible times but we came through them because among other things we had the faith that we would and
could and because we understood that nothing of much consequence is ever accomplished alone. it has to be a joint effort. that's what they have to come to understand. >> the introduction of the book, fundamental decency and tolerance and existence on truth and the good-heartedness of american people are there still plainly. and then you add in 2004 speech that you assert that 90% of americans share those values. how does that square with what we did in the election last november? >> well, this isn't an answer, this is part of the answer. let's not forget in the popular vote hillary clinton won by almost 3 million votes. so it isn't a landslide and donald trump really won by a very narrow margin.
i think we have several major problems obviously. one is that the poisonous of big money in politics, the idea that members of congress are dialing for dollars every day, half of their time, half of their time. the fact that we are incline to become or have become a nation of spectators. we sit around and watch things all of the time, watch television, watch athletic events. let somebody else do the performing to amuse us and entertain us. we are not doing things as much as we should. we are not making things on our own. we are not getting out there and helping to solve these problems. now, that's not true of everybody.
of course, we are generous, we are immensely philanthropic and we care sincerely and with fervor about education still and we should be infinitely proud of what we have achieved in the last two years in the way of greatest universities in the world. yes, they have problems, yes, the cost has gotten out of hand but there's no -- there are no institutions of higher learning anywhere on earth comparable to our own and never has been in all of history. this is an immensely admirable and important accomplishment such as important adam: -- admirable that we are making advances in medicine such as no one ever imagined. i think that future historians when they are looking back at our time, yes, the politics and the military and spread of war
and the political evils all over the world are important, but look at what is happening in medicine, look what's happened just in our lifetime. we were just looking at the diseases that john kennedy in the new exhibit is about to open, the diseases that mrs. kennedy, rose kennedy, john kennedy's mother, put on a little card, file card that he had had as a child. my wife and i each had brothers who had infintile paralysis, it doesn't exist anymore or the successful transplant of organs. we are spoiled. we've been given so much that we
just take it for granted and we should be grateful and we should be making our teachers heros, we should be celebrating -- [applause] >> we should have major awards, we should have statutes in our towns to the great teachers that have shaped the lives of so many people. i feel that our teachers are doing the most important work of any of us and we all ought to get behind them and make sure they understand we are all for them. [applause] >> being marry today an educator i would second that. [laughter] >> and add that they ought to be paid more. >> absolutely, no question. >> before i leave the subject of our current president because we could stay on that forever, what do you think john kennedy would think of trump? >> of trump? >> yeah. [laughter]
>> you know, we all know. he would be embarrassed. he would be appalled, he would be -- he wouldn't believe it. we've never had anything like this happen as a country, never had anyone even remotely so inappropriate for the responsibilities of the presidency in the job. never. [applause] >> and virtually every day he makes sure that we know that it's even worse than we thought. [laughter] >> it's as if we put someone in the pilot seat who had never flown a plane and who never -- who doesn't think it's important to know how to fly the plane. he's just a little surprised at how much more complicated it is. [laughter] >> i love the fact that the fellow who is going to solve all
of our health care problems discovered that health care was complicated. i was a college history major and one of the things that always struck me were the differing prisms through which history is seen, social historians, demographic historians, natural resource historians, it goes on and on but whatever prism you're looking at you see history differently. in your mind, what are you? what kind of a historian are you? >> i'm not a historian. i'm not. i have no advanced degrees in history. i've never studied history as the way i would
may have been able to do things that kennedy couldn't have done -- >> maybe hard to find two men more different. >> yeah. >> i'm sure you've -- you say you've interviewed 11 presidents? >> nine. started with john quincy adams. >> i think i interviewed six or seven or something like that. i've gotten to know those through the research that i've done on past days. what strikes me is how different they are one from the other, really different. jimmy carter compared to, say, george h.w. bush or bill clinton and some of them in my view dereceiver -- deserve more focus
and attention in the way that my instinct is that gerald ford receives more attention that he has received. he deserves a first-rate biography because when you think of all that happened when he was president and when you think of what he coped with, they tried to kill him twice, his wife suffering from alcoholism and i was here on the profiles of the courage panel the year we gave gerald ford profiles of courage award because of his pardoning nixon. he knew it would probably cost him reelection. he almost certainly did, he did the right thing.
it saved us grief and contentious behavior on all kinds -- on the part of all people in all roles. but the big difference today is that you take -- you start taking a look at gerald ford and i discovered here when working on truman, the volume of material that you have to deal with as a researcher, as a biographer is overwhelming and otherwise you are just sort of skimming through all of this material. what's in this collection here could keep one doing research for a full lifetime and never get through all of it. no that that's not of importance that we have all of this wonderful material but it's a staggering mountain to try to
climb and every book of the kind that i write and others write, biography and history is a joint effort. it's a group project because you have editors and copy editors but you also have archivis, the librarians that you want to interview, see, those people aren't just there to tip your hat, those people all contributed enormously to the result of the book and to make one more point, charlie, we have a problem that we are not teaching history as well as we should and we are not requiring history as course is required in
college, in universities anymore. 80% of the colleges and universities require no history to graduate. now, that's wrong. i believe in requiring courses because for one thing i think it's important, america at that stage in life it's hard to understand the end life, some things are required. [laughter] >> surprise, surprise. but the satisfaction, gratification that comes from working with good people such as are in this library of having the help of their -- not just what they know but their ideas, their suggestions on which path you should might take to make new discoveries are invaluable
>> because of this background and things he did in his life. princeton has gone through agony trying to figure out how to depict woodrow wilson whose name is closely associated would the college. now there are statues in the south built to civil war leaders that are coming down, to the opposition of many that live in the south. what do you think of that revisionist history? are those things proper in your mind? >> i think you start renaming everything because someone did something that is no longer acceptable as being virtuous, like owning slaves, there is no end to how much you will have to rename including the capitol of the country and make down the washington monument.
i would much rather see us start to raise statues or rename new buildings or monuments to those who didn't own slaves. and did show contrary to the mode of the moment. most importantly, john adams. the only founding father president who never owned a slave. there are no great buildings named for either of them. most were put up during the jim crow era. they were not done at the table of the civil war. they were done in the early part of the 20th century. they were really saying that we
have >> we are in a situation where things are changing so fast. there are those who say in 20 years half the jobs, maybe more, that people will occupy haven't been invented yet. >> thinking that. >> i was on the board of my college for eight years and then the graduating seniors would be sitting up on the dias looking at them. the first graduation i had was 2007 and there were a handful of graduates in computer technology. when i left the board in 2015, the number was huge. the number of engineers that stand up is growing exponentially. bill gates the other day said if you are a student in college you should study one of three things. artificial intelligence, energy or the bio sciences.
you can talk about history, humanities, social sciences but the pertinence of those things are they given how fast things are changing? should we be teaching people how to adapt and prepare for a job market that is so uncertain? >> well, i may be stuck in my ways and out of ideas and out of the loop of high tech society. i don't use a computer. i don't know how to work a computer. i type a manual type writer. >> what kind of phone do you have? do you talk into a pop-tart?
>> are you ready? >> sure. wait a minute. where the hell is it? i am way ahead of all of you. there it is. [applause] >> they tell me about all the things they can do. that is wonderful. i only want it as a telephone. but i think that the decline of the emphasize -- emphasis on the humanities is a mistake. let's suppose you come out of the university with a degree in chemistry or high tech communications or whatever. that might get you a very good job right away and might lead you into a very important constructive career.
all students take a basic course in writing because they don't know how to write a basic report or express themselves in our language. this is not only a handicap but a risky trend in any reasonable society. being capable of expressing yourself in words and also have no sense of the past of our country and nation is to be really held back to have serious
drawbacks to your qualifications for leadership in all fields. and it must be encouraged about our students and among our universities and colleges. a lot of us are working hard to bring back the humanities. and with good reason. think of the jobs that are open to people who can use the english language and know how to write and know how to think in the english language. words are what we think with. if our vocabulary is declining, which they are, there is very specific proof of this. our children have lower vocabulary than our generation. words are what we think with. thinking is important.
one of my favorite of all discoveries in the diaries of john adams and he kept marvelous diaries. nobody in public life would dare keep a diary anymore. it could be susubpoenaed and used against you in court -- subpoenaed. but a journal entry would say at home thinking. can you imagine if somebody in washington were to write that in his or her diary as an honest record of what they did that day? thinking. >> i would add one addendum to what you said. but there is no question that the ability to write is something of a lost art for students. a very good friend of mine, i
had dinner with recently and she was about read five oral presentations for phd and i said how good were their thesis? and she said two were legiblely written and three were not very good. but the addendum i would add is also the ability to present your argument verbally. >> oh, yes, on your feet. >> to be able to present and defend your argument orally. w w warren buffet said he could predict anyone who is a good speaker and could present an argument verbally to the crowd he said you will make 50% more in your life time than you will if you can't do that. worked for me. >> i guess it did. >> but lord knows what i would have been able to write.
but it is important. both of those things. and i think what you are saying is so important because of that dislocation of the job market. you don't know what you are going to be doing 20 years from now. so, in a basic grounding in moral thought, in the humanities and science and history because the critical thing is you can adapt yourself to the workplace. >> i would like to read something if i could from one of john kennedy's speeches. i don't think it could be more valid or relevant to today's situation. i think this is a man who is new do the jobs still but not knew to wh"what patients say, what
doctors hear" -- not what civilized society. i look forward to a society where we award art with achievements. i look forward to america which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but its civilization. this country can't afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor. art is the great unifying and humanizing experience. the life of the arts, far from being an interruption or distraction in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose and a test of equality of a nation's civilization. i am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our
cities we too will be remembered not for victories or defeat of battle or politics but for contributions to the human spirit. >> with that, let me invite anyone with questions and can ask you to keep them brief. why you make your way to the microphone two questions for you. most interesting person you have ever met? most interesting person you have ever researched? >> one of the most interesting people i have met is a man named tom stars el who died a few months ago. he should have been a name everyone knew. he changed history in a way very
few human beings have but he is largely unknown except within the medical profession. he was the physician who successfully made the first double transplant organ transplant success. he changed that whole realm. if i have a theme in this book, there is a line i quote at the beginning for george washington and it couldn't be more true. washington said purse severing is spirit have done wonders. you have to keep at it. you don't give up. if you get knocked down you get
back up. >> most interesting person you researched? >> i think a man named manessa cutler who i talk about in my commencement speech i gave at ohio university. cutler was a preacher in massachusetts. he had a church there. he was a doctor. he was a lawyer and practiced all three of these having achieved degrees in all three. before we had the constitution that created the northwest
ordinance, which was the territory seeded to us by britain that ended the revolutionary war. an area aside from all of the 13 colonies and all wilderness. native americans and wolves and panthers and rattlesnakes and bears and you name it. and he specified in this act, passed by congress, that there would be total religious freedom in this area, which would be made in a five states and total freedom of religion --
>> i am worried about four years from now there doesn't seem to be a leader in the democratic party. we have a guy seth multan who looks good but i wonder what your feeling on who the next leader of the democratic party would be. >> i can tell you who personally i would be for absolutely. joe biden. [applause] >> joe biden is a man of character and also had experience. both personal and professional where he has been knocked down and gotten backup in a way that is abnormal in the extreme.
>> you wrote your books based largely on newspapers, documents, and letters. and so few people write letters today. newspapers seem to be in decline. what forces do you think future writers of history will use? >> i think they will have a lot of trouble. they will have no letters or diaries to go by. they will not really know what we are like. what we write by computer may not last. there is a good chance on awful lot of it won't last. and it isn't exactly heart-felt, personal expression of the kind that letters and diaries have traditionally been.
it will be the only dierary that exists. -- diary. >> just as an aside you mentioned in the book or in an interview that you are reading the diary elizabeth dinker, pennsylvania, late 20th century? >> no, i am not. >> oh, somebody else. >> some other guy. >> your book is about speech is speeches you have given. i was wondering if you would comment on the ability of president kennedy in his capacity as a person who gave speeches? he had a brief presidency yet it seems he gave many, many, memorable speeches.
i think moreso probably than any other politician who was around in the television age where we can see, hear and listen to the speeches. i just wonder if you would comment on that ability. >> if he had done nothing but gave the speeches he gave he would be of immense importance. he was extraordinary and his speeches stand the test of time in a way that is not the usual case. except for lincoln and of course franklin roosevelt, too. no one has used words with such power and effectiveness and pertinence to the moment you
sense the man and the his peterson and talents as a leader but the gift he had to use the language he was a master literary figure. >> i carry no water for any politician but barack obama's speech at the 2004 democratic convention and kennedy's speech on religion in west virginia that was so important and obama's speech on race in philadelphia was one of the
greatest speeches. >> barack obama is a very powerful speaker and a thinker of considerable amounts of people. >> without that 2004 speech, i doubt he would have been president. yes? >> hi, thank you very much. pleasure to meet both of you. my name is carol cohen. firstly, i wanted to say thank you for all of the information on the adams'. everything you say and more about those people -- he needs a presidential library. both adams and quincy.
i want to ask a question. i am a professor of social study methods and teach both in service and future teachers who are going to be elementary school teachers. you say that it is the families and the lack of learning and appreciating difrngss but what about in the element school? i go around to a lot of elementary school and i am told there is no time for social studies. we only have half an hour a week. i brought it up at the national conference and couldn't get an answer so i am wondering what your answer is. sdwl >> my strong feeling is the best time to get young ones involved
in history is grade school. they want to know about presidents and heroes of accomplishment and so forth. they love stories and there are wonderful books that can be u d used. i was swift awayed by a book called m"ben and me" about a mouse that lived in ben franklin's hat. ben grew up as one one from a very large family in the famous old church in philadelphia. ben the mouse.
one of my grand daughters was in a class in ingham grade school and the children were told you could take a first lady or a president that you are going to be and we have going to put on a pageant or show for all your mothers and fares and you will introduce yourself as president so and so. and talk about yourself. the night of the gathers of the parents these little people came out there gave a wonderful account of who they were and what they did and why they should be known about.
all of us were amazed and i know not one of those children will forget which president they were. it will be with them for the rest of their lives and that is the kind of thing that can work wonders in many ways. i think we need to bring the lab technique to teaching history and this is through all the way through. get them involved in a project where they have to do the work and dig in and get their hands dirty. we should not just hand them everything and say here is what you need to know and why this is important. no, he was hooked by getting involved in the detective aspect of it. that works like nothing else. >> you mention the importance of universities and the world class universities that we have is a great asset to the country. there are two elements of
universities today that i personally find very dismaying. one is the emphasis on political culture. pc. and even administrators providing bubble rooms, for example. i wonder if you could comment on that. and the second situation is i found it dismaying to watch c-span in which there were two african-american professors and two feminist professors both in well known universities who were talking about the irrelevance of the constitution. since they were not blacks and women were not part of the decision making at the time. i was wondering if you could comment on that as well. >> very easy question, wouldn't you say? >> it is appalling. it is very disserving and unsettling and i personally in
this too simplified response and may indicate i don't understand the actual workings of a modern universities day and life of decision. when that happens, it is a lack of leadership on the part of whoever is running the universities. and not just the president but the faculty. the political correct vogue is awful. it is awful. it is unrealistic. it has nothing to do with understanding reality. we are not that kind of a country. we are able to -- we are still able to express our opinions, let us hope, without fear of being attacked or degraded or
made to feel like a fool. >> so when speeches are canceled because of student uprising at places like little berry or when a hundred students walk out of a notre dame speech given by the vice president or when speeches are canceled at california-berkeley because the students do not agree with the opinions of those who are about to speak i presume you would oppose that? but so too are there people who are trying to be provocative in the way they book these? >> if i were the president of the united states, or a member of the faculty where something like this happens, i would speak out strongly in favor of a different attitude and hope that the majority of the students and members of the faculty and alumni would be persuaded that
the stance i was taking was the right one. i am surprised at how few university presidents take any position politically. i don't understand it. is it because they are afraid it will damage their ability to raise money? i don't know. but the old days it now was. they spoke out and voiced their opinion. >> how about the second part of the question involving the constitution and the fact that perhaps there are people in this country because it did not represent them or did not feel they were fully represented in earlier days that it was not important. >> we have had, i think, 17 amendments in the constitution.
wrun one of the things we should do is teach the constitution. i don't know how many of you have seen the test that new incoming americans applying for citiz citizenship to have ask and i venture two 3rds of the country wouldn't pass that test but they have to pass it and they do. it is some of the most ardent readers and enthusiastic supporters of the constitution are immigrants and can't understand how many people among us know almost nothing about the history of our country. it doesn't have to stay that way. >> i know you are building historic houses to see where
people lived and work. what is the importance of historic houses in today's society and why should we preserve them? >> i am sorry. >> you mentioned in the book when you are doing a history about individuals that you go and see first of all what they read you go and find out where they grew up and what their surroundings were. why would we be interested in that in particular studies of people? >> i think it is essential. we have traits that are common among animals and one is we are imprinted in childhood by our environment and terrain and what kind of horizon is out there and all the rest. we grow up in some section or other and we don't realize how
much what we think comes from that environment. if you want to understand somebody, you have to go to that environment and see how many other people -- have, for example, many of the common poplar trace characteristics ways of harry truman. if you go out to independence missouri and spend time out there you realize that is way a lot of these people are. and the expressions and language they use as well. i stress very strongly not only do you have to read what they wrote but you have to read what they read.
i remember reading one of the letters to of adams to abigail and he said we may not prove successful in this struggle but we can deserve it. i read that and thought whoa, nobody thinks like that anymore. we can deserve it even if we don't win. i was then some months later reading a letter that george washington wrote and there was the same sentence. same observation. >> adams was a plagerist? >> this was a line by madison from a famous play which they
had not seen but all read it. it was one of the most poplar literary accomplishments of the 18th century. this happens again and again and they are shaped by what they read. they said we have been shaped by what they read and what we read. it is characteristics of the time. >> a long time ago, gerald ford was our congressman. it was nice to hear the kind words you have to say about him. lots of people don't appreciate the things he did for this
country. this has been a profound evening hearing this talk. one issue i have had is kids are not taught civics anymore. i have been a political junky all my life. when i talk to people about things like the constitution and studies common law in college, history and government major, i am appalled at their total lack of knowledge and what can we to
the easiest course they said was geography so i immediately signed up for it. the professor was rockery flint and he was a tall and impressive man and i will never forget and many of the others who went through the same course would never forget. imagine the empire state building and imagine a bible lying flat on top of the empire state building and imagine a dime lying flat on the bible. the empire state building represents the history of the earth. the bible represents the history of life on earth.
the dime represents the history of human life on earth. now talk about putting things in perspective, and i quickly found that i loved geology and signed up for another term that wasn't required because it is history. it is relevant to so much that we just don't even bother to try and understand. i always say take the teacher not the course. find out the inspiring professors and that will make the biggest impact. >> i covered a lot of local government in my time when i was a beginning reporter and covered
city councils and school boards. the interest in what school boards are doing and if you go here and say you ought to require civics and enough people do it civics will be required. yeah. >> this is a question from twitter. i am a representative of the library. the question is if someone like jfk were to take office how would he approach the foreign policy challenges we are facing now? >> knowledge.
>> hello, one of the youngsters in the crowd. and good golly you have given me a lot of homework, sir. my question is i have learned from the fact you have 19 grandchildren -- [applause] >> what is one message that you constantly tell them as they have grown up and are growing up? what is that message, that theme, such a well known historian and writer you are, what is that piece you think is so important nowadays and in the future? >> well, i am fortunately have considerable irish blood in my background and i don't just give them one. [applause] >> i am incapable of just one.
but one of my favorite quotes, and i have it framed on the mantle piece in the house, they all see it and know it, is from jonathan swift who said may you live all the days of your life. live every day. live all the days of your life. that is what matters. getting the most out of life while you are alive. and energy feeds on expending energy. roosevelt once said black hair rarely sits behind the writer whose pace is fast enough. you don't sit around and mope or feel sorry for yourself. self-pity is an ugly human inclination. but get out and do things. accomplish something. make the world a little better
every day if you can in some small way or the other. help other people who need help. be kind. have empathy. put yourself in the other person's place and try not ever to be boring. it is not fair to be boring. it is unkind to your friends or family. >> we will go here to the final question. >> good evening, mr. gibson and david mccullough. i have two brief questions. i am a history teacher here. number one, what are you currently reading for enjoyment? >> well, when i am working on a book i don't read anything but all that i need to read in order to be confidant enough to write that book. so right now i am reading all about the northwest territory
and biographies and autobiographies of a whole cast of characters. i have always wanted to write a book about people you have never heard of. i would love to have the capacity in the story itself to get you into the tent and not rely on historic -- what is the word? celebrities. historic celebrities to get you into the tent. i was greatly influenced as a student in college by thorn wilder and his novels and play. and particularly the play our town. i thought what if he could write a book about real people in a real town and have sufficient
material to get inside their lives and nature and they are drawing on letters and diaries and so forth. and i found that in a collection in ohio which was a settlement that was first in the northwest territory. my people came from massachusetts and to a degree new england states. they had been inadequately compensated with what was called script. they were going to compensate for that terrible oversight and unfairness with land. most were veterans of the revolution who had been through
eight years of hard slogging and they go out and start this whole new community in the middle of the wilderness. i am able to get into their lives in a way you could not do for a group of people today because we will not leave that kind of record. everything that could go wrong went wrong but they would not give up. and i think this is important. we tend to miss judge people because they are members of this group or that religion or this religion. among those we have tended to misjudge are the purtists. there was this idea they were all against having any fun in life and not true. they wore colorful clothes and
liked to sing and dance and drink and they had many admirable objectives in life and one was education. it was essential. it was part of their faith. to see how they have took that ideal of education and freedom of religion to unoccupied wilderness and create these towns and civilizations that was exactly what they had been trying to achieve back here is exciting. i have never undertaken a subject i knew much about. if i knew all about it i wouldn't want to write the book because that is the adventure, learning about it. i am learning what it was like to be a pioneer in that day and age. >> with that, we will wrap it up and i will ask david to do one
more thing but i appreciate you spending an hour and a half being as attentive as you can. as someone who did two hours on tv every morning i can tell you that is an exercise in bladder control. so is being here for an hour and a half and being as attentive as you have always been. as i read the book, i wanted to find something that would be a quota for the evening and a good way to wrap it up. i think all of us profoundly remember the period after 9/11. it was a very special time in this country and it was a time that there was wonderful unity. unity that i wish were still around in our society. we are in a position where we cannot talk to each other at times and that is really dismay. on a speech he gave just after 9/11, david said this and it is just a paragraph.
but i put it in yellow there on the left hand page. >> it said everything has changed but everything has not changed. this is plain truth. we are still the strongest, most productive, wealthiest, most creative, most ingenin and most generous country in the world and of all time. >> thank you, all. [applause]